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Lakewood Colorado BLM fossil fuel auction protest May 2016

Peter Buhay organizes protestors in Lakewood, Colorado for #Keepitintheground on May 12, 2016. (Photo: Olivia Abtahi/Survival Media Agency)

FOIA Request Probes Extent of Government Spying on Climate Protesters

The Intercept revealed last month that federal agents went undercover at a fossil fuel auction protest

Deirdre Fulton

Citing an investigation that revealed federal agents went undercover to spy on environmental activists, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) on Thursday filed nine Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information on surveillance of peaceful protests at federal fossil fuel auctions.

As they wrote at The Intercept in July, journalists Lee Fang and Steve Horn obtained emails showing that in May, local law enforcement and federal agents monitored and infiltrated a "Keep it in the Ground" protest at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction in Lakewood, Colorado. 

"The emails, which were obtained through an open records act request, show that the Lakewood Police Department collected details about the protest from undercover officers as the event was being planned," they wrote. "During the auction, both local law enforcement and federal agents went undercover among the protesters."

What's more, The Intercept reported:

The emails further show that police monitored Keep it in the Ground participating groups such as 350.org, Break Free Movement, Rainforest Action Network, and WildEarth Guardians, while relying upon intelligence gathered by Anadarko, one of the largest oil and gas producers in the region.

Now, CBD wants to know not only what happened at the Lakewood protest, but whether similar surveillance strategies have been pursued at other fossil fuel auction protests. 

"Every oil and gas lease sale on public lands since September 2015 has faced climate protests as part of the 'Keep it in the Ground' movement that is calling on President Obama to end all new fossil fuel leasing on public lands," a CBD press statement reads, noting that such protests "have halted several BLM fossil fuel auctions, and spurred BLM and [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] to begin conducting fossil fuel auctions online to avoid public controversy."

In turn, Thursday's filings (pdf) apply to all federal fossil fuel auctions conducted by BLM and BOEM since August 2015, including 14 fossil fuel auctions that faced public "Keep it in the Ground" protests.

"There's a large and growing movement of peaceful protesters calling on their government to make a moral choice to save our climate and end new fossil fuel leasing on public lands," said Taylor McKinnon of CBD. "The public has a right to know whether the government has launched a surveillance program targeting climate activists who are courageously speaking up for what's right."

In the end, McKinnon said, "Neither undercover surveillance nor moving fossil fuel auctions online will hide the dangerous disconnect between the Obama administration's climate rhetoric and its fossil fuel leasing policies. Until those policies align with U.S. climate goals, they'll continue to face growing public protest—and rightfully so."

Law enforcement surveillance and shifty procedural moves aren't the only threats facing climate activists. DeSmog Blog recently reported on how environmentalists like Bill McKibben and Tom Steyer "are being stalked by a team of GOP-trained camera operators."

Still, as McKibben wrote in a New York Times op-ed this weekend addressing such claims: "The fossil-fuel industry may threaten us as a planet, as a nation, and as individuals, but when we rise up together we've got a fighting chance against the powers that be."

"And perhaps," he said, "that realization is just a little bit scary for them."


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